Apple's skinny MacBook Air laptop is fat with features

SAN FRANCISCO -- Time will tell if Apple's aapl stunningly svelte new MacBook Air laptop computer lives up to all Apple CEO Steve Jobs' claims. For one thing, I'd like to see if the $1,799 notebook Apple touts as the world's thinnest can actually deliver an impressive five hours of battery life. (Frankly, four hours would be welcome.)

But on first impressions, there's no denying that Apple has designed another gorgeous machine. Apple has managed to cram in a full-size keyboard, 13.3-inch backlit widescreen display, iSight video camera, 2 gigabytes of RAM, state-of-the-art Wi-Fi and an 80-GB hard drive. The whole package weighs three pounds and ranges from 0.16 to 0.76 inches thick.

You don't realize just how thin that is until you see Jobs pull the machine out of one of those yellow interoffice envelopes.

The keyboard felt comfortable during a very brief typing test. And I was able to enlarge and rotate pictures on the screen by using iPhone-like "multi-touch" gestures (pinching, rotating, tapping, swiping and scrolling) on the track pad.

Pint-size laptop computers always exact compromises. Perhaps the most glaring in Air's case is the lack of a replaceable battery. Much as the iPod, the Air's battery and other components are sealed inside and are not easily removed.

What's more, Apple dispenses with a drive for loading CDs or DVDs. But the need for such a drive is somewhat diminished in the age of digital downloads, such as the iTunes movie rentals Jobs announced Tuesday.

And Apple lets you remotely install software by wirelessly accessing other Macs or PCs in your house, which probably have CD/DVD drives. Apple is also selling a $99 external "SuperDrive" that plugs into the Air's universal serial bus (USB) port.

The Air can also connect to a large cinematic display and headphones.

To complement Wi-Fi, I'd have liked Apple to also include the ability to connect to cellphone networks.

As with all Macs, Air comes with Apple's best-of-breed iLife multimedia software suite and the Leopard OS X operating system. The base configuration comes with a 1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

Folks with heavy-duty video-editing requirements may still want to stick with a MacBook Pro laptop or even a desktop. Still, I expect lots of road warriors to be living on Air.

Apple made other announcements:

•The new Time Capsule backup device combines a Wi-Fi base station with a portable hard disk. It costs $299 for a 500-gigabyte model or $499 for a terabyte.

•New iPhone software "triangulates" your location using nearby Wi-Fi base stations or cellular towers. Apple is teaming with Google goog and Skyhook Wireless on this capability, which will also let you add directions. As an iPhone user, I'm eager to install this free software update that lets the device find your location without GPS.

•Another iPhone update is the ability to send text messages to multiple people in a single message. And you can create "Web Clips" icons on the home screen that let you jump to favorite websites.

•Current iPod Touch owners can receive the new location-based Maps and Web Clips features through a $20 upgrade. (New devices will have these built in.) Touch is also adding the stocks, weather and notes applications.

In coming days, I'll be putting the new iPhone/iPod Touch features through their paces, and also trying out the MacBook Air.